What is Dark?

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What is Dark?

Postby polymath » 12 Dec 2010, 10:28

I've encountered many ways Dark is used to describe literature and film. Some are in accord with my understanding of the term; some are not clearly the same. I know Dark in the senses of noir genre and dark comedy and other macabre genres as in some way from a cynical or skeptical attitude holder, usually a protagonist, sometimes a narrator, exquisitely an overall theme, portrayed in bleak settings.

Not uncommonly, a femme fatale is an antagonist-deuteragonist in Dark, in the sense she has an agenda different from though at times parallel with a protagonist's, and not necessarily a villain or nemesis. I've seen strong traces of a male role counterpart to the femme fatale, where a male secondary position character causes dangerous and compromising complications for a leading female role. Not so much though of a female lead with a decidedly strong uniquely female cynicism or skepticism attitude. Whether a femme or macho fatale is a convention of Dark, I'm not married to, but see untapped potentials.

Mere violence or other aggressive misbehaviors or dystopias or tragedies in and of themselves don't in my estimation reach Dark. There's at least a need for cynical or skeptical expressed commentary fundamental to Dark. Bleak is in my opinion a subjective judgment. I could easily be convinced '50s era family manners TV shows and literature of manners from the time are in a sense bleak. Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, Ozzie and Harriet, and from '60s and '70s widely recommended young adult reading lists Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer.

What's your Dark?
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Down the well » 12 Dec 2010, 12:39

Cynical and skeptical, who me? It's hardly surprising, I suppose, that my writing leans toward the darker side. I've been asking myself if I should revise my WIP to lighten it up and broaden its appeal, but I'm not sure my voice will go there. I'm not a happiness and light sort of gal. Besides, I like the darker stuff in my novel. First, it's a post-apocalyptic setting. Second, it's about people who have struggled through five years of civil war. They've seen and done things that unsettle the heart. Most of the characters drink too much, some don't sleep very well, and others seem perfectly normal on the surface but are really time bombs waiting to go off. And yet it's mainly a love story. Go figure. The one redemptive quality in all.

polymath wrote: I've seen strong traces of a male role counterpart to the femme fatale, where a male secondary position character causes dangerous and compromising complications for a leading female role.


This, by the way, pretty much describes the inner workings of my plot.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby polymath » 12 Dec 2010, 13:03

I'm curious, is there some uniquely feminine quality to the female lead's cynical and skeptical attitude closely related to the love theme? Hereabouts the general attitude is how useless available men are, which is not far off the mark, a lot of emotionally damaged men who aren't suitable for or able to engage in enduring, meaningful relationships. The available ladies who express those comments aren't all that either.

I know a gal who hides behind her brass drawers, who's actually a sensitive and romantically appealing woman underneath her armor. She's afraid of settling or making the same fatal mistakes she's made before and her friends have, so she's inclined toward shallow relationships she can walk away from at the drop of a hat.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Quill » 12 Dec 2010, 13:08

What is the bottom line message of the cynicism and skepticism that inform and fuel a Dark point of view? That life sucks? That life sucks, we're in the mire, and there's nothing we (or anybody) can do about it? Is it about fate and futility? What is the underlying attitude of Dark?
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Down the well » 12 Dec 2010, 13:34

polymath wrote:I'm curious, is there some uniquely feminine quality to the female lead's cynical and skeptical attitude closely related to the love theme?


For my character, it's uniquely feminine because it pertains to reproduction. She needs an heir. She fears the vulnerability of the physical state of pregnancy (lots of psychological stuff going on in the backstory for this). But then, you know, love conquers all, blah, blah, blah.


polymath wrote:I know a gal who hides behind her brass drawers, who's actually a sensitive and romantically appealing woman underneath her armor. She's afraid of settling or making the same fatal mistakes she's made before and her friends have, so she's inclined toward shallow relationships she can walk away from at the drop of a hat.


Last night I watched Coco - Before Chanel, a French movie starring Audrey Tautou (love her). I would describe the main character in the movie exactly as you have written here. Abandoned at twelve by her father, Chanel grows a tough skin living in an orphanage. By eighteen she's leery of men and goes through several casual affairs before she finally finds love several years later --
Spoiler:
and then tragically loses it when the man is killed



Quill wrote:What is the bottom line message of the cynicism and skepticism that inform and fuel a Dark point of view? That life sucks? That life sucks, we're in the mire, and there's nothing we (or anybody) can do about it? Is it about fate and futility? What is the underlying attitude of Dark?



I don't think it's about "life sucks," though some days it does. :) Dark, for me, is about damaged-goods characters. They've been roughly treated maybe, or have dark pasts including things they've done that they aren't proud of. It informs their point of view in a way that makes them less trusting perhaps, or less inclined to believe in the happy ending right away. I like to think they can get there, though, and try to write with that in mind.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby polymath » 12 Dec 2010, 14:08

Quill wrote:What is the bottom line message of the cynicism and skepticism that inform and fuel a Dark point of view? That life sucks? That life sucks, we're in the mire, and there's nothing we (or anybody) can do about it? Is it about fate and futility? What is the underlying attitude of Dark?

If Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is any measure of what's Dark then blue collar male WASP bigotry of all stripes is it. There's all kinds of cynicism, antigovernment, antiliberalism, anticonservatism, antihumanism, anti-immigration, anticonservation, anticonsumerism, anti-mass culture, anti-high brow culture, anti-PETA, anti-Nimby, anti-development, anti-Marxism, anti-capitalism, antis of all kinds. Cynicism is another word for naysaying.

Take a critical stand about something, make a credible point, and support it. Thousands might flock to the banner and add their two cynical cents. Thousands more might refute it ad nauseam.

Anyway, any given literary work has a central message, not all the messages are cynical or skeptical, plenty are though.

Me, I'm an optimistic cynic, hoping for the best outcomes and preparing for the worst.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Watcher55 » 12 Dec 2010, 17:35

Dark is selfish but not insensitive and gives of itself when called upon or its bluff has been called.

Dark is introspective but spies on the selves of others and stores the intelligence for later.

Dark knows the ways of morality but often chooses to navigate around them or, if the situation calls, within them but with motives not altogether moral.

Dark’s person or personality depends on the nature of the light being cast and those who cast the shadows within it.

Dark doesn’t hate the light. Indeed Dark gets what it wants when doubt strikes eerie harmonies with truth.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby cheekychook » 13 Dec 2010, 00:03

Dark is my favorite type of chocolate, my preferred shade of all colors and my favorite time of every 24 hour period.

Dark is the counterpoint to light.

I don't personally view Dark as bleak, or evil, or menacing, to me it means depth more than anything else.

I'm quite familiar with film noir, dark comedies, and other more specific examples of Dark, but I think Dark is actually a necessary component of all stories. The degree of Darkness is what generally draws the line regarding whether or not the piece, as a whole, earns the definition of Dark. And that definition is (often but not always) subjective.

There's existential Dark, which is pretty undeniably Dark. There's sad Dark. Evil Dark. Dark as contrast to Light. And Dark interspersed with Light.

My preference is a balance. The good guy with the self-doubting thoughts. The comedy with the tragic moments.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 13 Dec 2010, 11:38

I sometimes recommend books I've read on my blog. I read and write YA so when I do this I always make a note to parents about the age it is appropriate for and what the parents might need to know about the story before their kid reads it.

I sometimes mention that there are "Dark themes/events" in the story and what those themes/events are. What I mean by this is that some of the themes are more complex, more shocking, more traumatic, possibly more triggering than the usual fare for YA and that some kids (as varied as kids are) might not have come in contact with said theme/event before and it might require some discussion between parent and child.

Examples: suicide, eating disorders, physically abusive parents, emotionally abusive parents, corrupt teachers, bullying, death of parents, death of siblings, etc.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby sierramcconnell » 13 Dec 2010, 12:44

People tell me I write dark because I go there. I dare to make my youth characters experience things they shouldn't. Carmine, my character in the first book, kills someone as a six-year-old, because he thinks it's in her best interest and he's not exactly 100% always remorseful for it it seems. He's a mad bastard, and he's the main protagonist. I love him to bits. I've been told, "he's an interesting character but I don't think I would ever want to meet him in person!" XD

I torture children. I sacrifce them to demons. I tear people apart in totally detailed ways. Bradley, poor kid, when I was writing his death, I even had to stop and suck in a breath and go, "Gah! Make them stop, make them stop!" because it was so horrible what they were doing to him. I'm so emotionally invested in him that it was tearing me to bits to see him, heaving and crying and begging for it to end, but they were drawing it out. It made me want to vomit.

And I love it. I need that. The feeling.

It's dark because it makes you feel sick, I guess. It takes you to the nightmare corners you only want to travel to during the day. And then at night...when you fear shutting off the light, the memory returns and you think, "Could it be? Are there creatures out there, and might they...no...no..."

And then sleep can't come.

That's my sort of dark. XD I like to entertain those creatures. :3

I'm gory, emotionally gut wrenching dark. And I lurves it. <3
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Watcher55 » 13 Dec 2010, 12:50

dark because I go there


Can I add that to my list?

Dark goes there and leaves the door open for any who care to follow.
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby sierramcconnell » 13 Dec 2010, 13:01

Watcher55 wrote:
dark because I go there


Can I add that to my list?

Dark goes there and leaves the door open for any who care to follow.


LOL. It's not the dark to fear but what hides within it, and even then you might find a few friends. XD My mentor told me that. XD
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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Watcher55 » 13 Dec 2010, 13:20

sierramcconnell wrote:
Watcher55 wrote:
dark because I go there


Can I add that to my list?

Dark goes there and leaves the door open for any who care to follow.


LOL. It's not the dark to fear but what hides within it, and even then you might find a few friends. XD My mentor told me that. XD


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Re: What is Dark?

Postby Margo » 13 Dec 2010, 13:28

Quill wrote:What is the bottom line message of the cynicism and skepticism that inform and fuel a Dark point of view? That life sucks? That life sucks, we're in the mire, and there's nothing we (or anybody) can do about it? Is it about fate and futility? What is the underlying attitude of Dark?


I don't think there is a single response to that. It would depend on the writer.

When I write dark it's about the struggle with moral ambiguity and the human experience of trying to reconcile that which cannot be reconciled. The underlying attitude of the type of Dark that I write is that the Dark is there, everywhere, in everything and everyone, and that the most dangerous thing we can do is pretend it isn't so and not grapple with it. The Dark I write is usually about having no easy options, no clear answers, no way to prevent pain to oneself but more importantly no way to prevent others from feeling it, and sometimes no way to prevent causing it. It's the Dark of struggling and being wrong, struggling and failing, but struggling still. It's about the Good for the sake of the Good, even when the inhabitants of the cave (I hope people know the Plato reference) would kill you over it.

cheekychook wrote:I don't personally view Dark as bleak, or evil, or menacing, to me it means depth more than anything else... There's existential Dark, which is pretty undeniably Dark. There's sad Dark. Evil Dark. Dark as contrast to Light. And Dark interspersed with Light...


Nicely put.

sierramcconnell wrote:People tell me I write dark because I go there...emotionally gut wrenching dark. And I lurves it. <3


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Re: What is Dark?

Postby polymath » 15 Dec 2010, 21:56

Interesting, each response is markedly different for what's Dark. Thanks, you-all.
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